Archives for category: Freedom of Speech

The Miami Herald editorial board published the following editorial in defense of free speech. It was cross posted in The Orlando Sentinel.

Last week, Florida’s government refused to grant permission to the League of Women Voters to hold a rally on the steps of the Old Capitol in Tallahassee, according to a ProPublica story. The group was told that, under a DeSantis administration rule, its rally needed to be sponsored by a state agency.

A thwarted rally during the legislative session may not seem like it warrants a ton of attention in the torrent of bad ideas pouring out of Tallahassee, but this is not small; it’s one more way the state is tightening its chokehold on free speech in Florida.

The league said it was denied permission by the Florida Department of Management Services under a rule that went into effect March 1 that says the use of the space must be “consistent with the Agency’s official purposes.”

In other words, if it isn’t part of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ anti-woke agenda or some other Republican cause, you need not apply.

The supposed reason is to protect public safety and make sure state workers and officials can do their jobs. Funny how, in all these years, that hasn’t been an issue. The area around the state Capitol has long been the site of all sorts of demonstrations, rallies and marches. But suddenly, that’s a problem.

Call us crazy, but could it have something to do with the perception that the League is left-leaning? Last year, a local official in Lake County, Illinois, called League members there “partisan hags” in a Facebook posting, apparently because he thought their debate formats favored Democrats. He later apologized — for the “hag” part, anyway.

In Florida, the League has taken an openly adversarial stance against the DeSantis administration in at least one instance. The group went to court to fight a 2021 voting law, with a judge striking down several provisions on grounds they were discriminatory. The state is appealing.

The change in rules for rallies — an excuse to restrict speech — isn’t happening in a vacuum. We’ve already had the effort by the Republican Legislature to stop discussion of systemic racism at universities and in workplace training, the smackdown of Disney for daring to oppose the governor’s “Don’t say gay” law on sexual orientation and gender identity instruction in schools and a bill to make it easier to sue for defamation that would have a chilling effect on public discourse.

In this latest iteration, the government is using state rules and red tape to stop dissent from being heard. What are lawmakers so afraid of?

And while the League managed to hold its event on a plaza nearby and discussed the muzzling of free speech, that’s poor consolation. Lawmakers need to be open to hearing dissent if they are truly representing the will of the people — and not just the will of one man.

This editorial was published by the Miami Herald. Contact us at
© 2023 Orlando Sentinel

Florida’s state board of education voted to expand its ban on any mention of LGBT topics through 12th grade, effectively censoring the topic for all grades. This move is intended to protect the rights of parents who don’t want their children to learn that gay people exist, but it is a slap in the face to gay families in Florida, as well as to people who are comfortable with discussions of reality.

The DeSantis administration next month could effectively bar all public school teachers from providing classroom instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity, a move that would expand Florida’s controversial 2022 law and go even further than the legislation Republican lawmakers are pushing in Tallahassee this spring.

A proposed State Board of Education rule, scheduled for a vote next month, says teachers in grades 4 to 12 “shall not intentionally provide classroom instruction” on either topic, expanding the prohibition in last year’s law that critics dubbed “don’t say gay.” Teachers who violate the rule could face suspension or revocation of their teaching licenses.

Equality Florida, the state’s largest LGBTQ advocacy group, views the suggested rule as part of “larger, disturbing trend” where Florida’s Republican leaders seek to use “every lever of government to censor conversations about LGBTQ people,” said Brandon Wolf, the group’s spokesman.

The goal, he said, seems to be to paint LGBTQ people as “wrong,” Wolf said, “or that we should be written out of society.”

Steven Singer, a teacher in Pennsylvania, cannot understand why the word “WOKE” has become a term of derision, when it means being aware of racial and social injustice. Who wants to erase our sense of right and wrong?

He explains:

“I advise everybody, be a little careful when they go along through there – best stay woke, keep their eyes open.”–Lead Belly“Scottsboro Boys”

How can you understand a problem if you are not allowed to name it?

How can you fight injustice if you are forbidden from learning its history and connection to the present moment?

These questions are at the heart of a well-financed war against a simple term – woke-ness.

Since the summer of 2020, oligarchs and their tools in the United States have been waging a disinformation campaign against that term – especially as it pertains to our schools.

Chiding, nagging, insinuating – you hear it constantly, usually with a sneer and wagging finger, but what does it really mean?

To hear certain governors, state legislators and TV pundits talk, you’d think it was the worst thing in the world. But it’s not that at all.

In its simplest form, being woke is just being alert to racial prejudice and discrimination.

That’s all – just knowing that these things exist and trying to recognize them when present.

I’m not sure what’s so controversial about that. If we all agree racism is bad, why is it undesirable to acknowledge it exists when it’s demonstrably there?

More specifically, being woke means focusing on intersectionality – how issues of race, class and gender overlap and interrelate with each other. It means practicing critical race theory – not the made up dog whistle conservatives use to describe anything they don’t like being taught in school, but the study of how racial bias is inherent in many Western social and legal systems. It means using the lens of Black feminism, queer theory and others to address structural inequality.

Again, why is that a bad thing? If we agree that prejudice is bad, we should want to avoid it in every way possible, and these are the primary tools that enable us to do so.

Our society is not new. We have history to show us how we got here and how these issues have most successfully been addressed in the past.

But these Regressives demand we ignore it all.

Shouldn’t we protect hard-fought advances in human rights? Shouldn’t we continue to strive for social justice and the ability of every citizen to freely participate in our democracy – especially in our public schools?…

As public school teachers, being woke is not a choice. It is a responsibility.

For we are the keepers of history, science and culture.

Who will teach the true history that for more than 400 years in excess of 15 million men, women and children were the victims of the transatlantic slave trade? Who will teach the true history of the fight against human bondage and the struggle for equal rights? Who will teach about women’s fight for suffrage, equal pay, and reproductive freedom? Who will teach about the struggle of the individual to affirm their own gender identity and sexual expression?

We, teachers, must help students understand what happened, what’s happening and why. And to do so we must protect concepts that emerged from decades of struggle against all forms of domination.

It must be us.

Please open the link and read the rest.

And stay WOKE.

The Orlando Sentinel reported that Professor Sam Joeckel was fired by Palm Beach Atlantic University, a private Christian university where he has taught for more than two decades. A student complained that he discussed”racial justice” as a topic for his students to write about.

Joeckel walked into his office one day last week and discovered that his telephone and computer were gone. Apparently a parent complained that he was indoctrinating students by teaching about racism.

Joeckel had an idea something was up because he was called in by administrators to explain his rational for teaching about racial justice. There was also a rumor that he had said something positive about gay people,which the university forbids.

The president of the university, Dr. Debra Schwann, took a personal interest in the case.

The parent who complained had “a reasonable concern about Dr. Joeckel lecturing substantially on the history of racism and racial justice in a class designed to teach writing,” Schwinn wrote in the email.

Afterwards, she said, the dean and provost reached out to Joeckel and “shared their intention to schedule a time to review his syllabus with him so they could understand better the pedagogical rationale for including these lectures in a writing class.”

Later in the email, Schwinn went on to describe PBAU’s approach to teaching about racial issues from a “biblical worldview.”

His course consisted of four units: the one on racial justice, others on comedy and humor, gothic and horror, and gender equality.

Current and former students describe Joeckel as a beloved professor who was well known on campus. Several were confused by Schwinn’s email and the allegation that he was indoctrinating students.

Chrissy Perez, 22, a former honors student at PBAU who graduated in 2022, took many of Joeckel’s honors courses, which she described as a mix of philosophy and history. In one course, Joeckel taught about modern-day social justice movements, including racial justice movements, Perez said, but it was “nothing radical at all.”

“The only thing that was even kind of unique about the unit was that it presented documents that were written by people of color rather than history about people of color written by white people,” she said.

ProPublica wrote recently about a powerful organization of far-right conservatives that carefully avoids public scrutiny. They are wealthy, powerful, and networked, thanks to the Federalist Society and its mastermind Leonard Leo. Leo is the guy who picked judges for Trump and engineered the selection of Brett Kanaugh, Neil Gorsuch, and Amy Coney Barrett.

Please read this article about Teneo, an organization with long tentacles and a goal of crushing liberal ideas, ideas that are central to our democracy.

A few tidbits:

ProPublica and Documented have obtained more than 50 hours of internal Teneo videos and hundreds of pages of documents that reveal the organization’s ambitious agenda, influential membership and burgeoning clout. We have also interviewed Teneo members and people familiar with the group’s activities. The videos, documents and interviews provide an unfiltered look at the lens through which the group views the power of the left — and how it plans to combat it.

In response to questions for this story, Leo said in a statement: “Teneo’s young membership proves that the conservative movement is poised to be even more talented, driven, and successful in the future. This is a group that knows how to build winning teams.”

The records show Teneo’s members have included a host of prominent names from the conservative vanguard, including such elected officials as U.S. Sens. J.D. Vance of Ohio and Missouri’s Josh Hawley, a co-founder of the group. Other members have included Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York, now the fourth-ranking House Republican, as well as Nebraska’s attorney general and Virginia’s solicitor general. Three senior aides to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a potential 2024 presidential candidate, are members. Another is the federal judge who struck down a Biden administration mask mandate. The heads of the Republican Attorneys General Association, Republican State Leadership Committee and Turning Point USA — all key cogs in the world of national conservative politics — have been listed as Teneo members…

Teneo co-founder Evan Baehr, a tech entrepreneur and veteran of conservative activism, said in a 2019 video for new members that Teneo had “many, many, many dozens” of members working in the Trump administration, including in the White House, State Department, Justice Department and Pentagon. “They’re everywhere….”

Soon after Leo took an interest in Teneo, the group’s finances soared. Annual revenue reached$2.3 million in 2020 and nearly $5 million in 2021, according to tax records. In 2021, the bulk of Teneo’s income — more than $3 million — came from one source: DonorsTrust, a clearinghouse for conservative, libertarian and other charitable gifts that masks the original source of the money. In 2020, the Leo-run group that received the Chicago business owner’s $1.6 billion donation gave $41 million to DonorsTrust, which had $1.5 billion in assets as of 2021.

Teneo’s other funders have included marquee conservative donors: hedge fund investor Paul Singer, Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus, the Charles Koch Foundation, the Bradley Foundation, and the DeVos family, according to Baehr.

As the group’s finances improved, its videos became much more professionally produced, and its website underwent a dramatic upgrade from previous iterations. All of this was part of what Baehr called “Teneo 2.0,” a major leap forward for the group, driven in part by Leo’s guidance and involvement….

Many of the connections happen at Teneo’s annual retreat, which brings together hundreds of members and their spouses, plus allies including politicians like Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and DeSantis as well as business leaders and prominent academics. Speakers at past Teneo retreats have included luminaries spanning politics, culture, business and the law: New York Times columnist David Brooks, federal judge Trevor McFadden, Blackwater founder Erik Prince, “Woke, Inc.” author and 2024 presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy, former Trump cabinet official and 2024 presidential hopeful Nikki Haley, ultrawealthy donors and activists Dick and Betsy DeVos, and Chick-fil-A board chair Dan Cathy.

These are the only posts today. Read them. Think about it. What did you learn? What should we do? None of us is a billionaire. How can we save our democracy?

Organize. Be informed. Vote.

I had the pleasure of speaking by Zoom to a meeting of the Pastors for Florida Children. The event was reported by Baptist Global News.

The morning session was also addressed by Baptist minister and retired Arkansas Judge Wendell Griffen. Although we have never met, our messages were in synch: Do not let the authoritarian Governor Ron DeSantis intimidate you!

Baptist minister and retired Arkansas judge Wendell Griffen stood before an audience of faith leaders and education advocates in Tallahassee, Fla., March 9, pointed to his lapel and dared Gov. Ron DeSantis to have him apprehended for being politically and racially aware.

“I wore a ‘woke’ button on purpose. I want to get arrested for being woke. I plead guilty to being woke. I want to be convicted of being woke,” Griffen said during a prayer breakfast sponsored by Pastors for Florida Children.

Wendell Griffen

Griffen, a BNG columnist and pastor of New Millennium Church in Little Rock, urged the in-person and virtual interfaith and multiracial audience to be equally defiant of Florida’s political leaders. “Be a community of prophets but teach as one and correct, confront, organize, interact, defy, dissent, disrupt.”

Jewish, Christian and Muslim participants who prayed ahead of the speeches by Griffen and education historian Diane Ravitch focused on DeSantis’ prohibition of books that teach about racial injustice and inclusion….

Please open the link and read his bold, wise, and brave advice.

Ravitch opened with a double-barreled barrage at DeSantis’ efforts to dismantle freedom of inquiry in public schools.

“I write a daily blog, and I find that it’s being overwhelmed by the bad news from Florida,” she said. “There doesn’t seem to be anything good coming from your elected officials. If anything, it seems to be building a more and more authoritarian empire to control the thinking of everybody in the state.”

She said DeSantis seems to be going out of his way to disprove Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous saying that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

“Your governor and your legislature are trying to flatten that arc so that it does not bend
towards justice,” she declared.

Current political events in Florida do not impact public schools alone, Ravitch said. “Florida today is at the very apex of a movement to turn the clock back a century, to turn the clock back on religious freedom, on racial justice and on all the evolution we have experienced over this past century to make ours a more just society. Your governor is creating a model of thought control and calling it freedom. Every time I see him standing in front of a banner that says ‘freedom,’ I’m reminded of George Orwell’s 1984, where freedom equals slavery.”

The conservative attack on the concept of “woke” is another sign of burgeoning authoritarianism, she said.

“We have to redeem that word. It means being awake — awake to injustice, awake to history, awake to all the things that are wrong in our society and that have been wrong over the centuries. And his (DeSantis’) idea of woke is simply to eliminate critical thinking about history and even knowledge of history. And this is very dangerous.”

And that’s only the beginning.

The Republican Party hopes to establish itself as the champion of “parental rights.” They have aligned themselves with “Moms for Liberty,” “Parents Defending Education,” and other well-funded (Koch, Walton) astroturf groups demanding book banning, censorship of courses about race and gender, and the “right” of parents to disrupt school board meetings, control the curriculum, and harass teachers.

At the worst points of the pandemic, these groups emerged to oppose masks and vaccinations. Their agenda grew from there to opposing critical race theory (even when they can’t define it), sex education, and anything that might make some children uncomfortable.

In September 2021, the National School Boards Association sent a letter to Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona and Attorney General Merrick Garland seeking help and advice for school boards that were besieged and threatened by angry, organized demonstrations, by so-called Proud Boys, and assorted malingerers.

State school board associations in red states were outraged by the NSBA letter, and some canceled their membership in the nonpartisan NSBA (I don’t know whether they have since rejoined). The national group withdrew the letter, but the fight goes on.

Congressman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), the incendiary chair of the House Judisry Committee, has issued subpoenas to former NSBA officials as part of his investigation of “mistreatment” of parents protesting “woke” policies. I understand that he has the power to oversee government action, but I don’t understand how he can investigate the NSBA, a private organization concerned about threats of violence to its members.

WASHINGTON (AP) — House Republicans issued another series of subpoenas Monday as part of an ongoing investigation into what they contend is the mistreatment of parents who protested “woke” school board policies.

Rep. Jim Jordan, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, demanded documents and testimony from three individuals, including the former heads of the National School Boards Association, for “requesting federal law enforcement assistance to target parents voicing concerns at local school board meetings.”

The Ohio Republican is flexing his newly appointed subpoena power to probe a September 2021 letter that the nonprofit representing U.S. school boards sent to the Biden administration. The letter warned of rising threats against school board members over coronavirus restrictions and teaching around race.

The letter to the Justice Department, signed by Chip Slaven, then the interim executive director of the NSBA, and Viola Garcia, then the president of the NSBA, outlined more than 20 instances of threats, harassment, disruption and acts of intimidation in California, Florida, Georgia, New Jersey, Ohio and other states.

Jordan, who also chairs a new subcommittee dedicated to what Republicans assert is the “weaponization” of government, has said that as a result of the letter, the Justice Department designated “a specific threat tag” for school board-related threats and opened investigations “into parents simply for speaking out on behalf of their children.” Those allegation are outlined in a GOP report released in November.

The NSBA has repeatedly stated that the letter’s focus was on the issue of violence and threats, not protests from parents….

It is all part of the Republican Party’s larger effort to turn the issue of ”parents’ rights” into a rallying cry, harnessing the frustration with schools that reached a boiling point during the pandemic when educators grappled with masking requirements, closures and remote learning for children.

Jim Jordan is a fervent Trumper and a fervent election denier. He was the first chair of the House Freedom Caucus, its most rightwing members. He’s the guy who is seldom seen wearing a jacket. He can be counted on to weaponize his new power to harass his political enemies.

Legislators in Florida have introduced a bill that would require bloggers who write about Ron DeSantis or his cabinet or legislators to register with the state. This is rich because gun buyers don’t have to register at all.

Apparently, the bill covers only paid bloggers, and Republicans consider them to be no different from lobbyists.

A Republican state senator in Florida has introduced a bill that, if passed, would require bloggers who write about Gov. Ron DeSantis, his Cabinet or state legislators to register with the state.

Sen. Jason Brodeur’s bill, titled “Information Dissemination,” would also require bloggers to disclose who’s paying them for their posts about certain elected officials and how much.

“If a blogger posts to a blog about an elected state officer and receives, or will receive, compensation for that post, the blogger must register” with the appropriate office within five days of the post, the legislation says.

I’m in the clear because no one pays me to blog. I do hope there is a court case testing this among many other pieces of legislation intended to cement DeSantis’ control over everything in Florida.

More worrisome is the legislation that challenges the New York Times v. Sullivan case, which would allow DeSantis to sue his critics for defamation. Justice Thomas and Justice Gorsuch want to overturn that precedent too.

The New York Times published an editorial this morning critical of Florida’s effort to restrict free speech and press freedom.

It said:

A homeowner gets angry at a county commission over a zoning dispute and writes a Facebook post accusing a local buildings official of being in the pocket of developers.

A right-wing broadcaster criticizing border policies accuses the secretary of homeland security of being a traitor.

A parent upset about the removal of a gay-themed book from library shelves goes to a school board meeting and calls the board chair a bigot and a homophobe.

All three are examples of Americans engaging in clamorous but perfectly legal speech about public figures that is broadly protected by the Constitution. The Supreme Court, in a case that dates back nearly 60 years, ruled that even if that speech might be damaging or include errors, it should generally be protected against claims of libel and slander. All three would lose that protection — and be subject to ruinous defamation lawsuits — under a bill that is moving through the Florida House and is based on longstanding goals of Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Even a tweet or a comment in Facebook would trigger a lawsuit.

In a direct attack on a key aspect of free expression, it says that whenever someone is accused of discriminating against others on the basis of race, gender or sexual orientation, that accusation is automatically considered enough to sue for defamation. Any person accused of bigotry based on sexual orientation or gender identity could file a defamation lawsuit and be virtually guaranteed of winning by saying the discrimination was based on personal religious or scientific beliefs. The penalty for calling someone a bigot would be a minimum of $35,000.

Bloggers could no longer call DeSantis names like DeSatan or DeFascist. What a fragile ego he has. How will he survive Trump’s insults?

Governor Ron DeSantis is doing his best to crush academic freedom and the expression of views that differ from his own. He won a sweeping re-election victory in 2022, and his party has a super-majority in both houses of the legislature. Whatever DeSantis wants, the legislature will give him.

But that’s not enough. The Democratic Party is powerless and supine, but they have the nerve to speak out against the Governor’s authoritarian policies. He can’t tolerate any nay-sayers.

Fabiola Santiago, a journalist for the Miami Herald, wrote with incredulity about the GOP’s fascist ambitions:

Now, I can truly affirm that I have seen it all in Gov. DeSantis’ Florida.

The state’s Republican Party is no longer a fan of multiparty American democracy — and they feel no shame in saying so in public. Nor in proposing legislation to dismantle it.

When the Florida GOP’s tweet appeared on my Twitter news feed, I thought it was a joke or a parody. But what Republicans are up to this legislative season is no laughing matter.

After easily winning the gubernatorial election and obtaining a Republican super-majority in the Legislature that allows the party to act unimpeded, GOP chairman Chris M. Ziegler says he’ll take nothing less than eradicating the Democratic Party. His threat to give Democrats no seat at all at the table is very real.

Republicans are acting like the hemisphere’s evil regimes. They know it, but don’t care.

On February 25, 2023, at 11:30 a.m., the chairman of the Florida GOP, Chris Ziegler, posted a tweet @FloridaGOP in which he wrote:

from Chairman @ChrisMZiegler: “Until we get every Democrat out of office and no Democrat considers running for office, we’re going to continue to step on the gas and move forward in Florida.”

Chris Ziegler’s wife Bridget is the founder of the extremist group Moms for Liberty, which is deeply involved in protests against masks, in book banning, in fighting “critical race theory,” and in attacking gays and the teaching of Black history.

Santiago continues:

The U.S. Constitution and the system of checks and balances be damned. There was immediate pushback on Twitter.

A person identifying as @k_kojei answered Ziegler: “I disagree. We need dissenting voices. That’s what a democracy is about. The problem is not helped by a one-sided view of things. Polarization is just that, no matter who does it! There has to be dialog and balance or we remain only half represented!”

Ziegler doubled down.

“We are doing just fine not giving Democrats a seat at the table in Florida,” he said, mimicking what the planet’s dictators, who think countries are their personal fiefdoms, say about the opposition.

“I recommend other states to do the same!”

More people enter the conversation, at first, remarkably civil in tone, given the sewer speech Twitter attracts.

Some of the horrified were Republican.

“That is extreme and Totalitarian by definition. Not a good look!” tweeted a man who describes himself as a “patriot” with “a recently restored account after two years. Starting from scratch. Unapologetically Conservative American!! #MAGA

“No, it’s DEMOCRACY!” retorts Ziegler, the kind of Florida man who lives in an alternate universe, and so dumb — or sure of his party’s power — that he accuses the Republicans who disagree with him of being “leftist.”

Finally, a ‘fighting for our republic” Floridian from the Treasure Coast brings a fitting hashtag to the conversation — #FloridaWhereFreedomDies. She posts a checklist of tactics Nazis used in their rise to power.

It’s eerily familiar, but nothing new to those of us who have visited museums in Israel and Germany. It all begins with religious, ethnic and lifestyle persecution, silencing the media and obliterating political opposition.

The Florida GOP and DeSantis’ ballyhooed platform is ticking off a whole lot of unimaginably undemocratic boxes.



Pictured in this April 14, 2017 photo, Christian Ziegler, 33, a marketing professional from Sarasota, has become the Florida GOP chairman going into the 2024 presidential race. He made the constitutionally questionable vow to eradicate Florida’s Democratic Party and defended a one-party state. (AP Photo/Tamara Lush)

Legislator files bill

Unfortunately, talk is only the beginning.

Destroying the Democratic Party is no empty threat.

As if the new GOP chairman acting like a two-bit Third World dictator-wannabe wasn’t egregious enough, his words were quickly followed by legislative action.

Former GOP chairman, Blaise Ingoglia, 2015-2019, threw the law behind Ziegler’s words.

Now Ingoglia, a 52-year-old Spring Hills home builder — named one of Tampa Bay’s most influential politicians — filed Tuesday “The Ultimate Cancel Act,” SB 1248, creating the conditions to force the Division of Elections to declare the Democratic Party illegal in Florida.

Reading the dangerous gobbledygook contained in Ingoglia’s bill is an exercise similar to interpreting Cuba’s repressive laws, where the bureaucratic entwining of edicts achieves the goal of making the repression look reasonable to the outside world.

Ingoglia has concocted a ruse: Rule the Democratic Party racist, claiming it’s because Southern Democrats supported slavery in the 1800s, and order it dismantled the way Confederate monuments are forced to come down.

His legal maneuvering is purely a power trip. Sad to say, but it’s unnecessary. The inept Florida Democrats, the 2020 midterms showed, aren’t a serious political threat.

The GOP, however, should scare every Floridian — and, given DeSantis’ 2024 ambitions, every American. We’re just a stepping stone.

The Florida GOP is DeSantis’ party. Nothing happens behind his back. This hardened, fascist Florida is a carefully planned, if sometimes stupidly executed, plot to destroy the United States as we know it.

This isn’t unlike the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol in 2021, only the men leading the charge are in suits instead of camouflage.

What institution will defend Floridians from tyranny when the GOP has so cleverly staged a takeover of every sector in the state?

Emboldened Florida Republicans aren’t happy with simply winning by big margins.

They want what every dictator has: total domination over what people think, whom they love, what they read. Total political control over law and policy without organized opposition to offer an alternative.

Floridians must wake up. It’s imperative.

The author Fabiola Santiago

None of this is happening without DeSantis’s knowledge and support. It sounds insane and fascist, but it is real. Ron DeSantis shows his true colors.

I am going to do something unusual with this topic, the topic being Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ bold and disgusting effort to take control of what may and may not be taught in the schools of Florida.

I wrote this post. It will be followed by one written by Mercedes Schneider. We don’t disagree, but we provide different content. Read them both and add your thoughts.

In Florida, a “controversial topic” is any concept that governor Ron DeSantis doesn’t like. This is what he calls “freedom.” Schools are not free to teach anything he dislikes. Last week, the Florida Department of Education told districts to provide detailed information about the books and materials they were using to teach topics that offend DeSantis.

To readers, I apologize for writing so much about this tinpot dictator. But the reality is that he is leading the way towards purging the schools of content that would be standard fare in many other states, and other red states are following his lead.

The Miami-Herald reports:

The Florida Department of Education this week told school districts to produce detailed information about the programs and materials they use to address some of the state’s most hotly debated subjects.

In an email delivered late Tuesday, the department instructed superintendents to fill out a 34-question survey identifying titles of books and programs they have relating to sex education, social-emotional learning, culturally relevant teaching and diversity, and equity and inclusion, among other topics. It asked for specifics for student courses and employee training. The department requested names and examples from district and charter schools. And it gave the districts until Monday to respond. “It sounds very much like what they have done to the state university system,” said Pasco County Superintendent Kurt Browning.

In recent months, the administration of Gov. Ron DeSantis has asked universities and colleges to provide information about their work in diversity, equity and inclusion, and related to gender-affirming care.

DeSantis followed those requests with speeches criticizing many of the concepts and calling on the Legislature to end spending for such items. College presidents quickly announced they would end diversity programs. Legislation mirroring the governor’s agenda soon followed.

“What concerns me about the questions is they are all the hot-button topics and issues that are in the news,” Browning said, noting that the department did not explain its request. “What is it that they’re looking for?”

The department did not respond to calls and emails seeking added information. Superintendents across Florida said their staffs are working to submit all the items, which include uploaded examples in addition to lists of titles and data about the percentages of schools that use the materials and programs.

A spokeswoman for Miami-Dade Public Schools said Friday “district staff is currently in the process of compiling responses to the survey.” The Broward school district did not immediately respond to the Herald’s query. I

“We’ve never had to get this in-depth before,” said Bay County Superintendent Bill Husfelt, president of the state superintendents association. He suggested that politically involved parent and community groups such as Moms for Liberty have played a part in the rising demand for specifics about what books, curriculum and other materials the schools use. Moms for Liberty chapters across Florida have pressed school districts to remove books they claim contain pornography or other materials harmful to minors. The organization’s co-founders recently sat with DeSantis and other Republican officials to identify 14 sitting school board members statewide to target for removal in the 2024 elections, including Miami-Dade School Board member Luisa Santos.

“Politics has always been like this,” said Husfelt, who has led his North Florida district for 15 years. “But I don’t know that I’ve ever seen public education as involved as it is right now.”

Browning said he found it frustrating that the state appears to be targeting approaches such as positive behavior interventions and trauma-informed care, while at the same time requiring schools to address students’ mental health needs. “It seems like they are saying, ‘Do it, but you can’t use this and you can’t use that,’ ” he said.

“My question would be, ‘What is it you want me to use?’ There is nothing inherently evil in any of this stuff, in any of these topics that they are wanting information on.”

The state previously has made clear its disdain for social-emotional learning and culturally relevant teaching, banning it from math and social studies textbooks as they come up for adoption. It also has restricted lessons about human growth and development, which includes sex education.

Social-emotional learning is a strategy that aims to help students manage their emotions and develop empathy, among other traits. The state promoted it as a way to keep students safe after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

Culturally relevant teaching attempts to present lessons in ways that better resonate with students of color. It was developed with the recognition that the teaching force in public schools is predominantly white while the majority of students are from other groups. In Florida, 57% of public school students are Black or Hispanic.

Andrew Spar, president of the Florida Education Association, said Floridians should recognize that the state’s efforts to remove such concepts from schools is “messing with kids.”

“Kids learn best when they feel safe, when they feel secure, when they have a connection to their teacher,” Spar said. “When you hear the governor talking about how we shouldn’t do [social-emotional learning] or culturally responsive teaching, what we’re saying is, we shouldn’t teach kids the way they learn.”

While many of the state’s survey questions relate to approaches that DeSantis and others have reviled, others focus on models that they have applauded. For instance, the survey asks about the use of the “whole child approach,” which has been embraced by classical education schools such as those supported by Hillsdale College in Michigan.

Browning expected the survey would be a precursor to legislation. “Isn’t everything?” he said.

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